New Mat-Su behavioral health clinic addressing ‘desperate need’ for services to open in April

An Alaska-based nonprofit plans to open a new behavioral health clinic in Wasilla in April in an effort to address a shortage of mental health resources in Mat-Su and around the state.

Alaskans seeking treatment can face long waitlists for counselors and therapists, especially those specializing in the treatment of young people. The state also has a shortage of beds for psychiatric care. Those problems are magnified in Mat-Su, where fewer options exist.

Alaska Behavioral Health, a nonprofit that runs multiple care facilities and programs around the state, announced the planned opening of the Mat-Su facility this week.

“We’ve heard from local providers, families and pediatricians that there’s a desperate need for services in the Valley, and that there’s extensive waitlists that can sometimes be up months,” said Joshua Arvidson, the agency’s chief operations officer.

“The time to provide a mental health service is the day they ask for it,” Arvidson said. “Typically, by the time someone’s asking for help, they actually really, really need it.”

The clinic will offer a range of health services, including therapy, psychiatry, primary care, peer support and case management. Arvidson said that while the facility will serve people of all ages, his agency hopes to fill a need for pediatric mental health counseling.

The new center comes at a time when the state is experiencing a shortage of available mental health providers that some have attributed to a combination of increased demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the scarcity of health care workers nationally.


“Alaska has a more transient population,” Arvidson said. “So workforce is always gonna be a little bit of more of a challenge here. And with our smaller population, you have fewer folks coming into the workforce than you do in some other states and communities.”

[As the pandemic wears on, the kids are not OK — and the support they need is hard to find in Alaska]

The nonprofit’s leadership say they want to create more access to providers in Mat-Su, where there is a particular shortage. The borough, with nearly 110,000 residents, is projected to grow more than any other borough or census area in Alaska, according to state demographers.

“The Mat-Su is the fastest-growing region in the state,” Arvidson said. “And we currently have patients who drive ... from the Valley to our clinics in Anchorage. And sometimes that’s a couple-hour round trip.”

The new facility, which managers say is a designated Certified Community Behavioral Health Center, will be located at 351 W. Parks Highway in Wasilla.

To receive that designation, a clinic must follow federal guidelines, including quickly serving anyone who requests care for mental health or substance use, and have crisis services available 24/7. The new clinic will be one of just four similarly qualified clinics statewide.

The funding for the new facility came in part from a $4 million grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency that provides resources and awards grants related to mental health and substance misuse.

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Reporter Annie Berman is a full-time reporter for the Anchorage Daily News covering health care and public health. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.